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The Experimental Zone. An Interdisciplinary Investigation on the Spaces and Practices of Collaborative Research



Experimental Zone documents a remarkable experiment in spatial research at the interface of architecture, interaction design and sociology, which was conducted at the Cluster of Excellence Image Knowledge Gestaltung at Berlin’s Humboldt-Universität from 2015 to 2018. Every two months, researchers reconfigured a 350-square meter workspace for forty scientists. The focus of the design-based, co-laborative experiment was placed on the interrelation of space and knowledge production: Which qualities of space do interdisciplinary teams need to perform their scientific work? Experimental Zone presents the findings of the experiment with over 400 striking graphics. By describing the conditions under which spaces of individual and collaborative research unfold, interrupt, dock, or merge, the authors reveal the characteristics of an architecture that promotes interdisciplinarity. The experiment’s innovative approach has also inspired the book’s design, with its five chapters and the comprehensive visual material reflecting publishing traditions in design, architecture, and the humanities.
The Experimental Zone
An Interdisciplinary
Investigation on the
Spaces and Practices
of Collaborative
verine Marguin
Henrike Rabe
Friedrich Schmidgall
Part 1 Investigating Space, Knowledge
and Collaboration:
A Theo retical Framework
19 1A Relational, Agentified and Inte-
grative Understanding of Space
23 2A Practice-theoretical Analysis:
Science in the Making
23 3The Research Gap: The Inter-
relation of Knowledge Practice
and Space
26 4Individual and Collaborative
Research in an Interdisciplinary
Part 2 Experimental Design-based
Field Research
36 1 Experimentalization of Space
40 2 Methodological Challenges
of a Science-Ethnographic and
“Single-sited” Field Research
45 3 Mixed Methods Approach with
a Visual Focus
52 4Catalog of the Experimental
61 Collections 1–3
69 Settings in the Canon, Sprints
as Rhythm: Development of an
Interdisciplinary Procedure Model
Guest contribution by Finn Geipel,
Fabian Scholz, Christian Stein
Part 3 Individual Research Spaces
81 1A Digitalized Research Practice
87 2 Dynamic Enfolding of the
Physical-Virtual Workspace by
97 Collections 4–8
Part 4 The Experimental Zone,
a Shared Open Space
109 1The Open-Plan Office:
A Challenge for a Multidisci-
plinary Group of Researchers?
113 2A Territorial Negotiation
123 3 Social Interaction in the
Experimental Zone
128 4An Oscillating Atmosphere
137 Collections 9–14
Part 5 From Co-presence to
Collaboration or the Design
of a Collaborative Habitat
149 1Appropriation of the Experi-
mental Zone as a Familiar Habitat
154 2Collaborations in the
Experimental Zone
160 3 Characteristics of a
Collaborative Habitat
163 Collections 15–17
171 References
175 Notes on Contributors
176 Acknowledgements, Imprint
Diverse, flexible, open: More and more companies
are presenting their workplaces and methods as
the “oces of the future” or “innovation spaces”.
In this context, oce design supposedly acts as
a driver of creativity and innovation. A long
tradition of experimentally and creatively ex-
ploring the connection between space and knowl-
edge exists in the field of oce architecture, with
key developments including the redesign of the
open-plan oce as an “oce landscape” by the
Quickborn team in the late 1950s (Kockelkorn
2008), the creation of typifications of workspaces
by Francis Duy and DEGW since the end of the
1960s (Duy 1969; Duy et al. 1976; Duy et al.
1992; Duy 1997; Laing et al. 1998; Harrison
et al. 2004) and the concept of “Oce Urbanism”
with its “mega floor” by Hitoshi Abe in the 00s
(Nobuyuki 2003). By contrast, the design of
scientific architecture, i.e. the spaces in which
scientific research and teaching take place, is not
yet being questioned and experimented with to
the same extent, although the university is the
place of knowledge generation and innovation
par excellence. In addition, current paradigms of
interdisciplinarity and digitization present the
university with new challenges. For instance,
questions regarding which spaces are suitable for
interdisciplinary collaborations, and the precise
impact of digitization on the architecture of
science arise. The latest discourses on the sites
of interdisciplinary and creative knowledge
production such as the media lab (e.g. Emerson
et al. 2019), the Co-Working Space (Merkel 2019;
Müller 2018) or the design studio (e.g. Yaneva
2009) on the one hand, and discussions sur-
rounding creative techniques such as designing
(Mareis et al. 2010) or design thinking (Brown
2009; Übernickel et al. 2015) on the other, reveal
scientists’ fascination with these topics. How -
ever, the question of how to design the spaces of
research continues to be neglected: How can
space actively promote knowl edge processes?
While, in architecture, the active space often
constitutes the implicit starting point of a design
(“an atrium encourages encounters”, “a design
fosters diverse activities”), such a view has long
been deemed outlandish by the humanities and
social sciences (Niewöhner 2014). Only in the
context of the “material-cultural turns” (Harrison
2013, 4), and in particular the spatial turn, was
space rediscovered as a research object and
described as active or “agentified” (Niewöhner
2014, 19). Nevertheless, not only are surprisingly
few empirical investigations on concrete places
of knowledge production published, but few
connections between spatial discourses in archi-
tecture (Hillier and Hanson 1984; Hara 2004;
Kojima 2007; Sailer and Penn 2009), in anthro-
pology (Yaneva 2009; Niewöhner 2014; Beck 2015;
Ash 2016), in sociology (Löw 2001; Delitz 2010;
Steets 2015), or in interaction design (Dalton et al
2016) can also be observed. In our research project
Séverine Ma rguin, Henrike Rabe, Friedrich Schmidgall
ArchitecturesExperiments, we have tackled pre-
cisely this research gap and—in a constellation
between architecture, interaction design and
sociology—developed a new interdisciplinary
approach to empirical spatial research.
As far as the question of knowledge production
is concerned, we draw on Laboratory Studies
(Latour and Woolgar 1979; Galison and Thomp-
son 1999; Knorr Cetina 1999), and also on Work-
place Studies (Suchman 1987; Knoblauch 1997;
Heath et al. 2000) and Studio Studies (Yaneva
2009; Farias and Wilkie 2016). The originality
of our study, however, lies in the fact that we ex-
plored a target group that has been rarely inves-
tigated to date, namely a multidisciplinary group
of scientists. At the Cluster of Excellence Image
Knowledge Gestaltung. An Interdisciplinary Labo-
ratory of the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin,
all research topics were addressed in interdis-
ciplinary team constellations—primarily consist-
ing of scholars from the humanities and design 1
disciplines. Increasingly in demand today, inter-
disciplinary research nonetheless poses immense
challenges for researchers on account of dierent
ways of working, methods and technical lan-
guages (Mejía et al. 2017; Shanken 2010; Galison
1999). In our research project, we were able to
investigate the Interdisciplinary Laboratory’s
extraordinary endeavor from within and in the
making, placing a particular focus on space:
What influence does space have on interdisci-
plinary knowledge production? Which spaces
and spatial qualities are required to develop new
knowl edge at the interface between the disci-
plines? We place particular emphasis on the
question of collaboration: What eect does space
have on collaboration within and between exist-
ing teams as well as on the emergence of new
constellations? A specific challenge was to find
spatial conditions that promote collaboration
but also oer opportunities for individual retreat.
For this purpose, it was necessary to explore
the ways in which the dierent physical-virtual
research spaces relate to each other, i.e. to deter-
mine under which conditions they unfold, coex-
ist, interrupt, dock or merge.
In order to investigate these questions empi-
rically, we developed a novel experimental and
interdisciplinary method for the investigation
and design of space, so-called experimental
design-based field research. For this purpose, a
research area of 350 m², the Experimental Zone,
was created for forty scientists 2, which was rede-
signed and rebuilt approximately every two
months over a period of three years (figs. 0.1-3).
A total of eighteen experimental settings was
carried out and observed both quantitatively
and qualitatively. In line with a practical theo re-
tical approach, the materialized knowledge prac-
tices and routines, i.e. bodies and objects, were
aorded special scrutiny. In this way, the eects
of physical-virtual space on interdis ciplinary
knowledge practice could be explored in an un-
precedented manner.
This book aims to share the results and chal-
lenges of this study with an interdisciplinary
readership. Conceived as a hybrid of the literary
traditions holding sway in the fields of architec-
ture, design and the social sciences, it consists
of five scientific chapters complemented by exten-
sive visual material generated as a result of the
design and observation of the spatial settings.
The chosen format is intended to allow readers
not only to retrace but also to continue the eval-
uation of this rich material: While the texts
highlight individual images, the complete visual
material is made searchable and comparable in
the so-called collections. In Part One, we present
our theoretical positioning: What do we mean by
‘space’? What do we mean by ‘physical-virtual’?
How do we define ‘knowledge production’ and
‘collaboration’ ? In Part Two, we explain the experi -
mental approach and the specific challenges
which characterize this methodological approach.
With regards to the collection of data, we present
our mixed-method approach and novel hybrid
observation and evaluation methods. Further-
more, we have structured our interdisciplinary
teamwork by means of a procedure model. As an
excursus, three further researchers involved in
the project—Finn Geipel, Fabian Scholz, and
Christian Stein—will describe its development in
a guest contribution. In Parts Three to Five, we
present the findings of the study. Part Three
begins with a dense description of the individual
research practices. At the level of the individual
workstation, we trace the physical-virtual
research spaces as a dynamic habitat and elabo-
rate its characteristics. In Part Four, we explore
how the individual practices meet in the open
1 We use the term “design” as an umbrella term for the disciplines of design and architecture
(Mareis 2010, Schäner 2010).
2 The names of participants in the Experimental Zone were replaced by pseudonyms throughout
the publication on the grounds of data protection.
space and which challenges emerge as a result
of the co-presence of the heterogeneous research
spaces. The analysis shows that the participants
negotiate the Experimental Zone on three levels,
namely in terms of territories, interactions and
atmospheres. In Part Five, we investigate how
a mere co-presence evolves into collaborations.
We synthesize the spaces of collaboration accord-
ing to their type and thus develop the charac-
teristics of a collaborative habitat in the sense of
a space that promotes collaboration.
The monograph thus documents our contribu-
tions to three current discourses. Firstly, we hope
to provide impetus for the field of spatial theory
by seeking to link relational and agentified spa tial
models and by overcoming the dichotomy between
the physical and the virtual. Secondly, we pro-
vide empirical results for basic research on space
with potential consequences for its design: By
describing the conditions under which spaces of
individual and collaborative research unfold,
interrupt, or merge, we reveal the characteristics
of an architecture that promotes interdisciplin-
arity. And thirdly, our project opens up new meth-
od ological perspectives, particularly in view of
the fact that space, with its multiple dimensions
and aspects—social, physical-spatial and digital—
often proves impossible to negotiate with the
methods of one discipline alone (Baur et al. 2014).
In a constellation combining architecture, inter-
action design and sociology, we have addressed
precisely this challenge and developed a new
interdisciplinary approach to empirical spatial
research. This enabled us to link a scientific
in vestigation with design practice, thus paving
the way for a ‘design turn’ in the social sciences.
The project has shown that spatial research bene-
fits immense ly from the knowledge that only
materializes in the making, e.g. in designing,
proto typing, building, drawing, testing or using
spaces. And, vice versa, empirical findings from
spatial research are all the more valuable if they
inspire the design of new spaces.
Séverine Ma rguin, Henrike Rabe, Friedrich Schmidgall
1. For data protec tion reasons we c annot
than k the partic ipants person ally here.
This publication is based on the
research project Architectures Experi-
ments (formerly Architectures of
Knowledge) at the Cluster of Excel-
lence Image Knowledge Gestaltung.
An Interdisciplinary Laboratory of
the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin
which was conducted between 2012
and 2018. The project would not
have been possible without the
support of many people involved:
First and foremost, we would like to
thank all participants1 of the Experi-
mental Zone for their involvement
in the project, particularly for their
understanding and support during
the eight rebuilds and for their
invaluable commitment and the trust
placed in us during the numerous
surveys and workshops.
The project owes its foundations
to the Principal Investigators, who
also provided years of guidance,
and we extend our warmest thanks
to the following individuals: Prof.
Wolfgang Schäner for his great
support of the project, enriching con-
versations and indefatigable will to
continue searching; Prof. Finn Geipel
for many inspiring conversations
and his advice as regards the concep-
tion, design and realization of both
the Experimental Zone and experi-
mental settings; Prof. Jörg Niewöhner
for his spot-on methodical and
theoretical advice; Prof. Bernd Mahr
for his encouragement and advice
in developing the process model;
Prof. Lars Lerup for the joint design
of an experimental setting; Prof.
Carola Zwick for her support in
founding the Experimental Zone
and Prof. Jan Roggenkamp for many
years of advice as regards data
We would also like to thank the
administration of the Interdisciplin-
ary Laboratory for its longstanding
support, in particular the untiringly
helpful Kathrin Bauer, Sandra Bauer,
Amaya Steinhilber and Deborah
Zehnder, who made the Experimental
Zone possible in the first place.
We would like to thank the former
team members and associates of
the research project, namely Julia
Blumenthal, Peter Koval, Maria
Lisenko, Cornelia Schendzielorz,
Fabian Scholz, Christian Stein,
Stefan Solleder and Cornelia
Thierbach for the fruitful collabora-
tion, for many inspiring discussions
and for their valuable contributions
to the theoretical, empirical and
design work.
The qualitative observation would
not have been possible without
Alisa Laila Fluhrer and Felicia Haidl,
for whose eorts we are very grate-
ful. We would also like to thank Tom
Brewe, Sammy Davids, Susanne
Friedl, Nikolay Kozhanov, Alexander
Struck and Benjamin Thomack for
their support as far as the quanti-
tative observation instruments are
concerned. And we thank Laura
Enghusen, Theodora Georgopoulou,
Maren Krause, Patryk Kujawa,
Dimitra Megas, Benjamin Meurer,
Catherine Slusher and Rasa Weber
for their contribution to the design
work and the graphical surveys.
In addition, the repeated construc-
tion of settings would not have been
possible without the advice and help
of the workshop sta of the Interdis-
ciplinary Laboratory.
Concerning this publication, we
are particularly grateful to the fol-
lowing individuals: Kerstin Germer
and Sarah Etz for their editorial and
coordinating work; Moritz Queis-
ner for his critical comments; Beste
Worte GmbH for the professional
editing and Katja Gretzinger for the
book’s wonderful design.
The Experimental Zone.
An Interdisciplinary Investigation
on the Spaces and Practices of
Collaborative Research
Séverine Marguin
Henrike Ra be
Friedrich Schmidgall
Authors of the guest
Finn Geipel
Fabian Scholz
Christian Stein
Copy editing:
Beste Worte GmbH
Editorial coordination:
Sarah Etz
Kerstin Germer
Felicia Haidl
Studio Gretzinger, Berlin
Munken Polar Rough
Pre-press, printing, and binding:
Gugler GmbH, Melk
A-Grotesk (Katja Gretzinger)
GT Super (Grilli Type)
ISBN 978-3-03860-148-7
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with a general subsidy
for the years 2016–2020.
© 2 019
Image Knowledge Gestaltung.
An Interdisciplinary Laboratory
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Park Books AG, Zurich
© for the texts
Séverine Marguin
Henrike Ra be
Friedrich Schmidgall
© for the ima ges
Unless stated otherwise,
Séverine Marguin, Friedrich
Schmidgall and Henrike Rabe,
Image Knowledge Gestaltung
An Interdisciplinary Laboratory
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin,
hold the copyright for the
images used.
All rights reserved. No part of
this publication may be repro-
duced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, elec-
tronic, mechanical, photo-
copying, recording, or otherwise,
without the prior written consent
of the publisher.
This publication was made
possible by
Image K nowledge
An Interdisciplinary
Cluster of
Excellence at the Humboldt-
Universität zu Berlin (sponsor
number EXC 1027/1) with
financial support from the
German Research Foundation
a part of the Excellence
Acknowledgements Imprint
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